Gary Clark Jr. at First Avenue, 11/20/13
Photo by Tony Nelson
Gary Clark Jr.
With the Wild Feathers and Max Frost
First Avenue, Minneapolis
November 20, 2013
There is a palpable electricity any time a big name band or musician makes their first Twin Cities live appearance. The anticipation levels reached a fever pitch as nearly ten years passed before Gary Clark Jr.'s first local performance, and it made for a very sold-out show at First Avenue on Wednesday. Clark's blues-drenched, cover-filled, nearly two-hour set reached a scorching level of its own, as the guitar virtuoso delivered on the hype and then some.
Clark and his three-piece backing back took to the spare stage unassumingly, with Clark settling in stage left, and the guitarist, drummer, and bassist giving him plenty of room to move. Clark is clearly the star of the show, and the rest of the group just tried to keep pace with him during his fiery, exploratory solos. The performance got going with a simmering version of "Ain't Messin' Round,' with Clark teasing the muted riffs at first before unleashing his raucous jams on his trusty Epiphone which he kept hammering on throughout the set.
Clark gave us a revealing look at where he comes from during a spirited rendition of "Travis County," before he unleashed the first of many covers, B.B. King's "3 O'Clock Blues," which found the guitarist clearly trying to channel the legendary talents of one of his idols. And that's what a majority of the set became, Clark showing us where the blues came from, but also where he plans on taking that style in the future. It was an untamed, lively mix, all led by the masterful hands of Clark himself, with one blazing guitar solo immediately sounding more inspired than the last.
Photos By Tony Nelson
"Y'all feeling all right?" Clark asked the swelling crowd early on in the show. "It's good to see you." But he kept the pleasantries to a minimum, as his focus was clearly on bringing the house down. The set steamrolled on with a rousing take on Robert Petway's Delta Blues standard, "Catfish Blues," which sat seamlessly next to Clark's own hit, "Don't Owe You a Thang." They showed his ability to bring the songs to a tranquil, elegant end without it sounding abrupt or out of place.
Clark was clearly settled in on the spacious First Ave stage by the time he tore into smoking versions of "When My Train Pulls In" and "Please Come Home," with the latter number sounding like a '50s prom theme for all of the cool kids who smoked instead of going to study hall. Clark's eyes were closed tight as he stomped and soloed away, completely lost in the groove of the song. "I got a little sweat in my eyes during that one," Clark teased. "I couldn't see what I was doing."
A smooth, toned-down take on "Things Are Changing" gave us all a chance to catch our breath a little bit, before Clark again showed off his influences and inspirations (and his deep record collection) by tenderly covering Albert King's "Oh, Pretty Woman (Can't Make You Love Me)," and Albert Collins's "If Trouble Was Money." We were in the middle of some deep, dark blues now. After a well-earned ovation, they turned the house lights on briefly and Clark seemed genuinely taken aback by how packed the club was. "Wow, I can see you finally," he said, before touching his heart and taking a bit of a modest bow.
Photos By Tony Nelson
But there was nothing modest about his take on Jimi Hendrix's "Third Stone From the Sun," which morphed from a fuzzed out, spacey jam into a blistering reworking of the Little Johnny Taylor classic, "If You Love Me (Like You Say)." Clark eventually brought it home with a Hendrix reprise at the end, which fittingly brought out the most explosive solo of the night. Then came a simmering version of "Blak and Blu," the title-track of his 2012 record, which started out solo before the rest of the band chimed in and lifted the song upwards. The main set was brought to an emphatic end with a towering, filthy version of "Bright Lights" that somehow eclipsed all of the great moments and searing solos that had come before.
The ovation didn't let up at all while the band were off stage, and eventually Gary returned solo and strapped on a harmonica to roll through a lovely, harp-drenched version of Leroy Carr's "In The Evening (When The Sun Goes Down)." The rest of the group then joined him, with Clark eliciting ooh's and ahh's from the crowd by switching out his Gibson for the only time in the set, strapping on a gorgeous light-blue Fender Strat, causing him to laugh and briefly respond to the reaction of the audience. "It's pretty, isn't it?"
The Strat led Clark into a hot, sultry solo on a soaring, sweeping version of "You Saved Me," before he switched back to the Gibson and rattled the walls on a thunderous take on "Dumb," which echoes the Beatles most rocking number, "Helter Skelter." Gary Clark Jr. proudly showed his influences throughout his scorching set, but he adds a modern twist to those familiar blues sounds, proving that the venerable musical tradition is in more than capable hands as it rumbles on down the road.
Personal Bias: I had been hearing of Clark's incredible live shows for years now, and certainly wasn't going to miss his first Minnesota performance. My expectations were admittedly pretty high going in, but Clark and his band exceeded them with this ripping set.
The Crowd: A wide variety of old time Blues fans and younger kids wanting to hear the next big thing. But young or old, the place was packed.
Photo by Tony Nelson
Overheard In The Crowd: "Damn, he sure can make a tank-top look sexy."
Photo by Tony Nelson
Random Notebook Dump: Openers the Wild Feathers delivered a rousing, impassioned opening set that easily charmed the full house and certainly earned the band a bunch of new fans. The Nashville quintet had an early Black Crowes/The Band vibe, with soaring harmonies and a boisterous three-guitar attack. These guys clearly are on the verge of breaking it big on their own, and this pairing with Clark (this was their last show as part of this tour) was a wise move, and should get most of the music world talking about the Wild Feathers, if they aren't already.
Ain't Messin' Round
3 O'clock Blues (B.B. King)
Catfish Blues (Robert Petway)
Don't Owe You A Thang
When My Train Pulls In
Please Come Home
Things Are Changing
Oh, Pretty Woman (Can't Make You Love Me)(Albert King)
If Trouble Was Money (Albert Collins)
Third Stone From The Sun (Jimi Hendrix)/If You Love Me (Like You Say)(Little Johnny Taylor)
Blak and Blu
In The Evening (When The Sun Goes Down)(Leroy Carr)
You Saved Me
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